When Eating Becomes Sin, Part 4
by: Jack Hughes
- Dieting and Eating
We return to our series “When Eating Becomes Sin.” I have had many people comment on the series. Some refuse to read the series scared of what they might discover and fearful of being accountable to God. Others have been encouraged, some convicted, still others have questions about things I haven’t addressed yet. Well, be encouraged, I only have a limited amount of space and can only address a little at a time. If I run to the end of the series to the application part, there would be no biblical support, no authority from God about what I am saying. When dealing with a complex issue such as eating, especially an issue that has been for the most part ignored by the church, you need to go slow and examine a wide variety of theological topics and texts which either explicitly or implicitly apply to our eating habits. This will give us a well rounded view of the truths which apply to the Christian view of eating and should keep us from jumping to false conclusions or extremes.
For this Calvary Review we are coming to some of the more explicit texts addressing eating in the Bible. But before we start, let’s do a quick review. First, we have talked about eating as an American medical problem which endangers the lives of millions and is a leading contributor to serious health problems. Secondly, we learned that eating is a blessing from God. Food is given for pleasure and to sustain us. Thirdly, we learned that lack of self control is a sin. Fourthly, we learned that fleshly indulgence is sin and those who practice fleshly indulgence are described as those who “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” Fifthly, we looked at the sin of not being self controlled. Finally, we looked at the sin of living an undisciplined life. All of these doctrines contain principles which can be and should be applied to our eating habits.
Now we come to a doctrine that specifically relates to eating – gluttony. Webster defines gluttony as, “habitual greed or excess in eating.” One of the tongue-in-cheek comments I use with my wife before sitting down to a feast is, “I am going to try and stop one bite short of gluttony.” There is a time when acceptable eating becomes eating in excess, this is gluttony. Gluttony is one of the sins of eating mentioned in the Bible.
The Sin of Gluttony
In Deut. 21:18-21 the death penalty is prescribed for a son who is described as “stubborn and rebellious, . . . a glutton and a drunkard.”Prov. 23:20-21 uses the same terminology saying, “Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, or with gluttonous eaters of meat; for the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe one with rags.” Here we see both excessive drinking and overeating listed together. In one instance the death penalty is prescribed for the wicked son who is characterized by gluttony, among other things. Proverbs also associates gluttony with drunkenness for both are sins of indulgence, and God’s wisdom is to “not be with” gluttons. The reason is obvious, a glutton refuses to use self control, he indulges the flesh, he is a bad example and corrupting influence on those who are trying to maintain self-control and discipline.
The same word translated “glutton” in the two texts above is also used in Prov. 28:7, “He who keeps the law is a discerning son, But he who is a companion of gluttons humiliates his father.”The Hebrew word used in these verses describes someone who squanders or wastes their food by overeating. The word literally means “to pour or shake out.” The glutton pours out or shakes out all onto his plate and then consumes it. He fails to exercise self-control and hence the discerning will not be a close friend or companion of the glutton.
In Mt. 11:19 Jesus said the scribes and pharisees accused him of being “a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” The word “gluttonous” used here describes “an intemperate eater, one who does not use self-control in eating, or one who consumes an excess amount of food.” Of course Jesus wasn’t a glutton or drunkard, though he was a friend of tax collectors and sinners.
Paul, when referencing the reputation of those on the Island of Crete that Titus was ministering to said in Tit. 1:12, “One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’” Here Paul uses a different word which the New American Standard translates “gluttony.” It is a word usually used to describe pregnant women who are great with child. But Paul uses the word to describe a person who has a great belly, like a pregnant woman, who has a voracious appetite for food.
All of the verses above tell us that gluttony is one of the instances when eating becomes sin. It is sinful because it is excessive eating or eating without exercising self-control. It reveals that a person is not in control of their fleshly appetites but instead is enslaved to fleshly indulgence. Having an ice cream cone might be fine, but eating a half gallon of ice cream in most, if not all, cases would be gluttonous.
Don’t Forget Who Owns Your Body When Eating
As Christians, we continually remind ourselves when eating that our bodies are not our own. Paul, addressing reasons to abstain from immorality, says in I Cor. 6:19-20, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” This truth is taught in Acts 20:28; I Cor. 7:23; I Pet. 1:18-19. Many Christians live like they own themselves, like their body is theirs to do with as they please. But the biblical perspective is that God owns us. He purchased us and our bodies with the precious blood of Christ. Because God owns us He has the right to tell us what to do with our bodies. He wants us to use our bodies for His glory.
So we can be assured that if we are gluttonous eaters or our eating habits in any way fail to give God glory, our eating would be sin. So as you eat, remember, your body is not your own, it is the property of another and the owner of your body has the right to tell you how to take care of it. Paul in Rom. 12:1 describes God’s will for our bodies in these words, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” Our eating habits must reflect holiness and complete submission to God who purchased and owns us.
The Sin of Causing a Weaker Brother to Stumble
The final category of sinful behavior we want to consider which relates to eating is the sin of causing a weaker brother to stumble. In I Cor. 8:13 Paul says, “Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” Here, Paul is talking about eating meat sacrificed to idols. His point is that if his eating meat sacrificed to idols is going to cause someone else to stumble in his/her Christian walk, he is not going to eat meats sacrificed to idols. Pagan temples would often sell the meat sacrificed to idols in the local markets. The proceeds would go to support the pagan temple. Paul knew idols were nothing and he knew that meat sacrificed to an idol didn’t have any spiritual cooties on it. But he also knew that some Christians didn’t have that knowledge. Some had been saved out of pagan idolatry and their conscience would be defiled if they, or others they knew, ate meat sacrificed to idols. So Paul abstained if he knew that his eating meat sacrificed to idols might hinder someone else’s walk with the Lord.
A similar text, with a similar context, is found in I Cor. 10:31-33. Paul goes through the same basic reasoning as in chapter 8 and then concludes saying, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense either to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God; just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved.” Here Paul exhorts us in several ways. First he tells us to make sure we eat and drink for the glory of God. Second, he tells us not to offend people in the way we eat. Third, he explains that his motive is not selfish. Fourth and finally, he explains that his motive is the salvation of the lost. All of us need to ask ourselves if our eating accomplishes these same goals.
Let’s consider one final text which addresses an instance when eating may cause others to stumble and hence be sinful. The text is Rom. 14:15-23 where Paul is addressing our liberties in Christ and how to use them. He specifically addresses eating and says this in vss. 15-23, “For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.”
We all have a right to eat, it is a “good thing” Paul says, but there are certain times when this “good thing” becomes a sinful practice. If our eating harms others, if it is not according to love, if it does not promote peace, if it does not build others up, if it causes others to stumble, if it defiles our conscience, or if we can’t eat in faith, then our eating, a “good thing,” becomes sin. What we learn from the three texts above is that there is a kind of eating that might be perfectly fine in some contexts and yet sinful in others.
One word of caution. Some people interpret the texts above to mean that we should never do anything at any time that somebody, some place might take offence at. This is not what Paul is saying. Paul is saying that if you know someone will be offended or are pretty sure your eating might cause someone to stumble, then don’t eat. He is not saying, don’t do anything, anytime, that somebody, some place might take offence at. If that were the case we couldn’t use electricity or any modern technology because the Amish might take offence or be caused to stumble.
What we have learned is that gluttony is a sin, we need to remind ourselves when eating that our body is not our own, and if our eating hurts or causes others to stumble, our eating becomes sin. Well we made it through most of the relevant texts related to eating and now its time to start applying these truths to the many questions people often ask, 1) Is there a godly weight for a Christian? 2) Is there a godly diet for a Christian? 3) What does it mean to please God in our eating? 4) Are diets biblical? 5) Is exercise a proper solution for those who struggle with overeating? 6) If someone has practiced indulgence and become obese, should they try to lose the weight? 7) If someone has slowly gained weight over many years and become obese, should they lose weight? 8) Can you be skinny as a rail and be a glutton? We will try to answer questions like these in the future. Until then, remember your body is not your own, therefore glorify God in your body!
Will cite source location at the end of the series.